Memory; gossip for good; AR in the OR

March 26, 2024

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Total recall?

It’s true that brain performance peaks in your mid-20s, so why don’t 25-year-olds rule the world? “Around a generation ago, we assumed that when we get older, we dramatically lose our memory,” Sharon Sha, a clinical professor of neurology and neurological sciences, told Stanford Medicine’s Scope blog. “That's really not the case.” The brain’s gradual, slow decline is really gradual, really slow, and really shallow. During a healthy aging process, the volume and number of neurons in the brain decrease, as does the amount of insulation around them, called myelin. As we become more, let’s say, sophisticated, our processing speed typically slows, but our decision-making is wiser and our loss of memory power is subtle. For example, people in their 60s are likely to remember six numbers in a sequence, whereas young adults remember seven. Even when memory loss does become problematic, age isn’t always to blame. Medications, psychiatric conditions like anxiety and depression, and sleep quality can all be factors in memory lapses. We can set our brains up for a long, fit life with a good diet, regular exercise, and a healthy sleep schedule—no fountain of youth necessary. (Fountain hopping, on the other hand, has clear benefits.)

No pain, no gain.

Life may seem blissful for Nvidia co-founder and CEO Jensen Huang, MS ’92—his company’s computer chips are in high demand thanks to the AI boom, and Nvidia is now valued at more than $2 trillion (that’s bigger than Amazon, Alphabet, and Meta). But it wasn’t always smooth sailing. “Greatness is not intelligence. Greatness comes from character,” he told students earlier this month at the 2024 SIEPR Economic Summit. “And character isn’t formed out of smart people, it’s formed out of people who suffered.” Resilience matters in success, as do low expectations, he said. Even today, he worries that Nvidia will fail, which he says helps him anticipate and prepare for challenges. (Which could be considerable—Huang also predicted that AI will include computational abilities a million times greater than today’s and be able to pass any test humans take.) “For all of you Stanford students,” he said, “I wish upon you ample doses of pain and suffering.” You know, in a good way.

Welcome to the On Call Cafe.

Server at On Call Cafe waving while a patron walks by. Photo: Christina Duong, ’26

Late night? The On Call Cafe is a student-run, pop-up coffee shop that is satisfying evening needs for caffeine and getting lots of buzz on campus. (Video here.)

Keeping up with the microbes.

Cellular jealousy, begone! The results are in: Each person’s microbiome is unique and special in its own way. The average person’s microbiome is made up of around 39 trillion constantly changing microbes, which has made it tough to determine which composition is ideal. Previous studies have identified a handful of bacteria that are often present in the microbiomes of healthy people—which many people suspected meant that those shared bacteria could be the most important. “We found the complete opposite,” said Michael Snyder, a professor of genetics and leader of the study. Snyder and his colleagues looked at the gut, mouth, nose, and skin microbiomes of 86 people for six years, collecting 5,432 biological samples along the way. They found that the most stable bacteria were those most particular to an individual and that stability corresponded to periods of health, whereas bacterial fluctuation accompanied infections or the onset of diabetes. The study, according to the researchers, has closed the door on the idea of some gold-standard microbiome we should all be aiming for. “Instead,” Snyder said, “we’re moving toward this idea that we have a personal microbiome that is incredibly important for our own metabolic and immune health.”

Gossip for good.

You didn’t hear it from us, but . . . not all gossip is bad, according to a recent study from Stanford and the University of Maryland. Gossip and the ostracization that can follow are tools that help groups to reform bullies, thwart exploitation, and encourage cooperation. “Once you receive that information, it can help people calibrate who to connect with, who to work with,” said Michele Gelfand, a professor at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. Gossip can also foster social bonds, encourage cooperation, and discourage bad behavior. “Gossip is promoting cooperation because people don’t want to be the subject of future gossip,” Gelfand said. “Because they want to protect their reputation.”

But wait, there’s more.

Ashley Moses, a neuroscience doctoral student, says that scientific research papers may be more available than ever to the public, but they still aren’t very understandable. She’s founded the Civilian, a nonprofit that helps researchers write summaries of their papers at about a 10th-grade reading level, which she hopes will lead to increased trust and understanding of scientific research.

Jerod Haase, Stanford men’s basketball head coach for eight seasons, is out, and Kyle Smith is in after five years at Washington State, where he went 94–71 overall.

Women’s basketball head coach Tara VanDerveer and her team are headed to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen after a nailbiter against Iowa State last weekend.

OR, meet AR. Stanford Medicine recently became among the first to integrate augmented reality into surgical practice when clinical assistant professor of cardiovascular medicine Alexander Perino performed a heart procedure while wearing an Apple Vision Pro, allowing him to see not only the patient but real-time data typically displayed on monitors around the room.

Between lab experiments on campus, PhD student Kemi Ashing-Giwa ventures to the far reaches of space—as a science fiction writer.

New Stanford-led research shows that U.S. oil and gas facilities are emitting more than 6 million tons of methane per year, roughly three times the level predicted by the U.S. government. Additionally, fewer than 2 percent of emitters are responsible for 50 percent to 80 percent of emissions in nearly all regions surveyed.

A new study shows that an indoor relative humidity of 40 percent to 60 percent naturally creates antiviral compounds in the air’s microdroplets. That means emphasizing ventilation without considering humidity could be counterproductive to preventing the spread of disease, particularly in cold weather when the heater is on (and the air is dry).

Next time you need a ride to the airport, ask a friend. Requesting favors is one way to strengthen your relationships and find your people.

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